VTubers: What Are They?

By Ana Perez, 10th Grade

VTubers, also known as Virtual YouTubers, are online entertainers who use a virtual avatar generated using computer graphics for their activities. Originally a niche form of livestreaming that originated in Japan, the VTuber industry has seen an explosive rise in popularity, turning the market into a profitable one filled to the brim with many livestreamers from around the world. But what exactly are VTubers? And how does the VTuber industry operate?

VTubers originated in Japan in the early-2010s with the first VTuber, Ami Yamato, who began making videos on May 18, 2011 with vlog and diary-style videos that used an animated character. However, VTubers rose in popularity in 2016 with the introduction of Kizuna AI, using a simple 2D anime avatar that employed live2D and motion capture technology, making it easier for her to livestream in real-time while appealing to the niche demographic of anime fans. Many other VTubers debuted between 2016 – 2019 such as Tokino Sora and Kuzuha, who quickly obtained millions of subscribers on YouTube and other video-sharing platforms such as niconico and bilibili. However, the VTuber industry wouldn’t receive a boom in popularity until the pandemic, since more people were at home streaming and watching livestreams. As of October 2021, there are over 16K individual active VTubers, ranging from independent streamers to those under large production companies. VTubers have also obtained international success with the popularity of English-speaking streamers such as Gawr Gura and Mori Calliope and Indonesian-speaking VTubers such as Moona Hoshinova and Kureji Ollie. 

One reason as to why VTubers received a sudden boom in popularity is that it’s relatively simple to do virtual livestreams. There are several applications and websites that can provide people with their very own virtual avatar for the cheap price of $50 such as Booth.pm; not only does it provide character assets, but it also provides ready-made models that anyone can buy and use. You can also commission artists to design you a unique live2D or 3D model. VTubers not needing to be restricted to a single platform can also contribute to their rise in popularity, since they can stream on video sharing and live streaming platforms such as YouTube, niconico, bilibili, or even Twitch. 

It’s common practice for VTubers to treat their avatar as a ‘character’ they are ‘roleplaying’ as, usually with their own complex backstory and lore. However, streamers usually break character within their first few streams. But this practice allows artists to conceal personal information they do not wish to disclose such as their legal names, age, gender, face, and even voice. Yet, just like the rest of YouTube, there is a serious doxxing problem to the point where some have had to retire or go on hiatus since their addresses or other personal information was leaked. For example, Kusunoki Sio was forced to go on an indefinite hiatus after her address and pictures of her house were leaked on 5channel. 

However, despite their unique way to stream and post videos, VTuber content is not all that different from ‘regular’ YouTubers. You’ll often find them posting storytime videos, livestreaming video games, hosting interviews or Q&As, or posting covers of popular songs.

While VTubers may have started as small independent artists running their own channels, today, agencies and companies are now the main source for VTuber content. The biggest VTubers are usually backed by a large agency that provides them with live2D models, collaboration opportunities, marketing, and promotion; they provide their talents with things that would normally be difficult for an independent artist to obtain. Currently, the biggest VTuber agency is Hololive Production, with 22 out of the 25 most subscribed YouTubers belonging to the agency. With a Japanese, English, and Indonesian branch, Hololive has about a hundred artists operating under the agency. Some of their standout talents include Gawr Gura, Tokino Sora, Hoshimachi Suisei, Minato Aqua, Tokoyami Towa, Momosuzu Nene, Mori Calliope, and IRyS. Other agencies such as Nijisanji, the second largest VTuber agency, and VShojo, the largest VTuber agency on Twitch, are big in the industry, with multiple different VTubers with millions of subscribers working with them. VTubers such as Kuzuha, Kanae, Tsukino Mito, Honma Himawari, Ironmouse, and Silvervale. 

VTubers have also managed to break into the music industry since a good portion of VTubers also serves as ‘virtual idols.’ They release music using their virtual alias and avatar and advertise their music releases on their channel. VTubers can also perform live using 3D models and hologram and motion capture technology. For example, Hoshimachi Suisei was able to perform at the Tokyo Garden Theatre using a 3D model and motion capture technology. This gives people who normally wouldn’t make it into the music industry an opportunity to shine. This rings true for Suisei, who was rejected multiple times at auditions and only managed to make it big after debuting as a VTuber. But this feat is only conceivable for VTubers under big agencies who have the backing of a production company and a music label able to cover the costs of releasing music and hosting live concerts. 

While VTubers have a unique concept, they are fundamentally the same as ‘regular’ YouTubers and Twitch streamers. They post the same type of concept, with the only difference being that YouTubers and Twitch streamers use their real faces while VTubers use virtual avatars. So if you enjoy watching YouTube or Twitch, try giving a VTuber a shot – in this oversaturated VTuber market, there will be someone you’ll enjoy watching.

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